France’s President Emmanuel Macron began a tour of Central Africa on Wednesday in a desperate attempt to safeguard French interests in Africa, as anti-French sentiment runs high in a majority of African nations.
He landed in Gabon’s capital Libreville on Wednesday and will later head to Angola, Congo-Brazzaville and the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
Macron’s trip comes as alarm grows in Paris over Russia’s rising influence in French-speaking African countries, joining China, which has been present in the region for some years.
Burkina Faso, has told France on Wednesday it is renouncing a 1961 agreement that provided a legal basis for French military aid.
In a speech on France’s Africa policy on Monday, Macron called for a “mutual and responsible relationship” with the continent of more than 50 countries, including on climate issues.
He also said the French military would reduce its footprint on the continent in the coming months, though a military source and analyst have said French army chiefs may be reluctant to do so.
A speech that did not convince in the diaspora nor in Africa, as demands for the departure of the French presence are increasing.
More than 3,000 French soldiers are deployed in Senegal, Ivory Coast, Gabon and Djibouti, according to official figures.
Another 3,000 are in the Sahel region further north, including in Niger and Chad.
– Distraction? –
In Gabon, Macron will dine with President Ali Bongo Ondimba on Wednesday.
On Thursday he will attend the One Forest Summit on preserving forests worldwide, including along the vast Congo River basin.
Gabonese environmental activist Marc Ona Essangui said he was worried Macron’s visit would detract from the rainforest summit’s main goal.
Gabonese people would instead likely view his presence as giving a political boost to Bongo in the run-up to presidential elections later this year, he said.
“What people are registering is Emmanuel Macron coming to back his candidate,” he said.
Bongo, 64, has been president since succeeding his long-ruling father in 2009.
Macron has insisted Africa is a priority of his second term, and in July he went to Cameroon, Benin and Guinea-Bissau.
After Gabon, he heads to the former Portuguese colony of Angola on Friday. There, he is set to sign an accord to develop the agricultural sector as part of a drive to enhance French ties with English- and Portuguese-speaking parts of Africa.
– Congo talks –
He will then stop in the Republic of Congo, another former French colony, where President Denis Sassou Nguesso has ruled for almost four decades, albeit in several stints.
Finally, he will end his trip on Saturday in the Democratic Republic of Congo.